Club profile: Roseberry Grange Community Golf Club
Roseberry Grange Community Golf Club is bucking the trend for falling memberships with members already enquiring about subs for next year. Yet the Durham club, which features an 18-hole course plus a driving range, faced closure last year. Its owner, Durham County Council, is making budget cuts as part of the government’s austerity measures and had earmarked the struggling club for a cost-cutting measure.
But in a remarkable turnaround, Roseberry Grange has been saved by its membership, as secretary Ray McDermott explained: “The council planned to let the club become derelict and demolish the clubhouse, which had cost them £1.25 million to build. The chairman, my assistant secretary and I decided to see if we could save the club and asked the members for help.”
Roseberry Grange is extremely dear to Ray’s heart – he has been secretary there for 18 years, having joined as a non-golfer on the day that the club opened in 1987. It was developed as a community resource and brought many locals to the sport for the first time.
The club’s importance to the community is heightened by the fact that the last remaining pubs in the neighbouring villages of Grange Villa and West Peltonhave closed down. The only other facility in the area is a working men’s club, so the clubhouse provides an important hub for the villages, offering a stunning view of the greens and fairways.
“The club had been developed from a redundant open cast site, and I could not face seeing it return to dereliction again,” he added.
It soon became clear that the community shared his views – after reading about the club’s plight in the local paper, accountant David Armstrong offered to create a business plan for the club and manage its accounts free of charge.
Members have pitched in to redecorate the clubhouse and to help the greenkeeper by raking bunkers and watering, while others have been trained to use the fairway mowers.
The club’s importance to the local community and its ability to show that it would not be a drain on local authority resources, meant that a deal was struck with the council that the members would take a 35-year lease on the club, paying a peppercorn rent for five years while they ploughed back any profits into renovations.
One council official is an ex-officio member of the club’s committee, ensuring that the money is being well spent, but otherwise management is entirely down to Ray and his team.
To reflect the change to the club’s status – and perhaps the fact that it remains a community resource, its name has been changed from Roseberry Grange Golf Club to Roseberry Grange Community Golf Club.
“We are determined that the local community still regard it as their golf club – there could have been a perception that it would become a members’ club not open to all when we took over, hence the name,” explained Ray.
“The clubhouse is open from 7am to 8pm in the week and 7am to 6pm at the weekend, and will continue to be available for functions such as weddings and Christenings. We’ve also organised a couple of captain’s nights, which were a sell out, and these more than subsidise the clubhouse, so we plan to carry on with those,” commented Ray.
Staffing comprises a head greenkeeper with two full time greenstaff and two receptionists who also act as bar staff. Everything else is done on a voluntary basis by members – one looks after the driving range, others help in reception and the bar.
The response from members and the public has been impressive. From 195 members who supported the committee earlier in the year, membership rose to 255 in the summer of 2011, and an offer of 15 months’ membership for the price of a year from this month is expected to attract even more.
“We’re optimistic that we will top 300 members again, which will make the club more than viable,” explained Ray. “But we aim to keep costs down and make it affordable for working people.”
Juniors are also encouraged with a rate of £50 a year, and are given equal priority on the course. And to keep school leavers in the fold, youth membership for 19 to 24 year olds costs half the adult price. Visitor numbers have also been impressive and green fees are “well ahead of budget”, according to Ray.
He commented that he continues to be amazed by the amount of input from members which helps to keep costs down: “They have updated the clubhouse and even put in new showers free of charge.”
Their support will be important in the future as the committee looks to reinvest in the club – Ray has been warned that the clubhouse doors and windows will need replacing soon, while improvements to the course itself, updating the irrigation system and replacement of machinery are part and parcel of maintaining standards. But there is no shortage of enthusiasm, or innovative ideas for that matter.
Receptionist Chris Jones is also the club’s professional and coaches golfers on his days off.
“We’ve been able to offer coaching through Sport England funding and it has been a successful membership marketing tool. Anyone who undertakes the coaching is offered two months’ free membership, and more than half of those that he has coached have joined the club subsequently,” explained Ray.
“He is due to meet the junior development officer of the Golf Foundation soon, and we hope to offer coaching for juniors with the backing of the foundation. This is something we are very keen to develop, as we really want to encourage juniors to play at Roseberry Grange,” he added.
The extent of the goodwill generated by the initiative is shown in the level of the ‘peppercorn rent’ instigated by the council, which currently stands at zero! Ray is also confident that the 35-year lease will be extended at the end of its term.
“If everything continues to go as well as it is now, there’s no reason not to renew,” he said. “The club is not costing the council anything and they are getting an improved facility, so everyone is a winner.”